National Geographic : 2016 Oct
52 national geographic • october 2016 The kid from Texas with the three cell phones still couldn’t get a signal. We had the usual lively camping conversations, aided by a bit of whiskey passed around among the adults. Someone made an assertion that sounded like bunk. “Too bad we can’t Google it,” Casey said. We were in one of the places left on Earth where all the world’s recorded knowledge could not be summoned to a device in the palms of our hands; it was only a minor annoyance. Casey shrugged, staring at the moonlight on the tiers of rock. “It’s pretty sweet, this place. Like the Manhat- tan of nature.” “ The what?” I asked. “Canyons that go on forever, changing in color and rock type, the same way architecture changes in different neighborhoods of New York.” On the third day, as we passed other boats, the guides talked to each other in hushed tones. They let us in on the news: Someone was miss- ing from another group, a guide, as it turned out, who’d last been seen hiking along the shore. For all the fun and luxe services, the canyon was still a wild place, unpredictable in its way. We experi- enced this ourselves later that day when our boat slowed, as if snagged, just as we entered one of the bigger rapids. The guide worked the engine Reclamation, which manages federal water proj- ects in the West, wanted to build another dam on the Colorado, to go along with the Glen Canyon colossus he’d constructed upriver. His plan to mess with the magnificence of a free-flowing river inside one of the most treasured parks inspired a campaign comparing the scheme to flooding the Sistine Chapel. Park lovers prevailed. It’s precise- ly that kind of conservation constituency in a newer generation that will be needed to protect wild places through the next hundred years. The threat this time is a plan to construct a billion-dollar development on the canyon’s eastern end, a knot of hotels, stores, and restau- rants built around a tramway to the bottom. Our guides were describing this project just as we pulled ashore at the junction of the Colorado and the Little Colorado—known as the Confluence, a sacred place in tribal creation stories—where the proposed gondola would dump thousands of visitors a day. The smaller river was much warm- er and a brilliant aquamarine color. We hiked up this side canyon and floated down on our backs. Then we did it again and again and again, until we were worn out with giddiness. In the evening we set up camp on a beach with more open views than the night before.